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Friday, October 29, 2010

Is it bigger than a... micron?

Expanding your oil and air filter product knowledge can improve your ability to relate to your customers while improving your bottom line

While taking trips in the family roadster, many families passed the hours and hours of driving cross-country by playing games. I’m not referring to the handheld games of today such as Gameboy, PlayStation Portable or Leapster. I’m referring to the games like I Spy or 20 Questions. Such games filled the void of getting from point A to point B with entertainment that actually taught kids how to problem solve. The game 20 Questions would inevitably begin with the following question: Is it bigger than a breadbox? 

The same philosophy (or game of 20 Questions) can be related to the oil and air filter industry. However, instead of a breadbox, filter manufacturers are asking the question: Is it bigger than a micron? A “micron” is another word for a micrometer, or one millionth of a meter. A micrometer is a unit of linear measure in the metric system used to measure distance from one point to another. Unlike some of the better-known units of measurement like the inch, foot, centimeter or millimeter, the micron is another way to measure the width or diameter of objects on a much smaller scale.

So how big is a micron, or one millionth of a meter? The linear equivalent of one micron is .000039 inches. If that doesn’t completely answer your question, we can look at some examples. What are some comparative sizes?

  • Diameter of average human hair = 70 microns
  • Lower limit of visibility (naked eye) = 40 microns
  • White blood cells = 25 microns
  • Talcum powder = 10 microns
  • Red blood cells = 8 microns
  • Bacteria = 2 microns
  • Carbon black = 0.6 microns
  • Tobacco smoke = 0.5 microns

So, what do microns have to do with oil filters? The media inside of an oil filter can be manufactured to capture large particles, or small particles. An oil filter that is rated as a “10 micron” filter has the capability to capture particles as small as 10 microns (or the equivalent of talcum powder) or larger. Perhaps tidbits of knowledge about micron ratings and the actual size of particles being trapped might be good to relay to your customers. After all, a knowledgeable technician is more likely to be trusted by customers and might respond favorably to preventative maintenance suggestions.

A word of caution

Although a filter may be marked with a “10 micron” rating, a technician and their customers won’t know exactly what this means unless the technician also has a description of the test methods and standards used to determine the filter rating. This is where it gets tricky. The different test methods may not be comparable as their methodology varies greatly, along with the eventual results. Two well-known media ratings are a nominal micron rating (50%) and an absolute micron rating (98.7%). A nominal rating usually means the filter's media can capture a given percentage of particles of a stated size, according to the Filter Manufacturers Council. An absolute micron rating can be determined by single-pass or multi-pass testing and is usually obtained by passing a test fluid containing particles of a known size through a small, flat sheet of filter media or a filter element. An absolute rating is also expressed in the form of a percentage of the size of particles captured. If you really want to “wow” your customers, this information will certainly solidify your shop as an expert on oil filters. I’m sure your customers would agree.

It’s important to note that only leading manufacturers of oil filters adhere to the toughest standards in the filter industry. Filters made by manufacturers that institute the multi-pass testing procedure, or other stringent testing methods, should be used by lube shops like yours.

Clearing the air

Are the same testing procedures used to determine the micron rating of an “air” filter? The quick answer to that question is, no. However, even though air filters are not assigned a micron rating (since that term is only used in liquid filtration), the life of an air filter can be measured in total grams fed or in hours of lab life and is determined by testing at a standard test dust concentration for the various types of air filters.

The end of the life testing is determined using the restriction method. When the predetermined restriction service point is reached, the test is stopped and the filter is weighed. The amount of test dust held by the filter is considered the capacity or life of the filter, according to the US-based Filter Manufacturers Council.

However, air filters can be easily accessed by the technician and viewed by the customer. This gives technicians and their customers a quick and easy, yet un-official method of deciding if the air filter needs changed.

Based in Albion, IL, Champion Laboratories is a quality and technology leader and one of the world's largest manufacturers of filters and filtration products and related services. The company manufactures the Luber-finer brand of filtration products. Luber-finer filters are made alongside the world’s leading private label and original equipment manufacturer’s filters, ensuring the most stringent filter construction requirements are met for maximum protection on today’s demanding engines. Champion Laboratories, Inc., has been a trusted name in filters since 1955, providing high-efficiency performance in the most demanding work environments. For more information, visit or call our Tech Hotline at (800) 882-0890.